An honest review of my stay in a psychiatric hospital
I don't really know how to begin this post. I'll be honest, it feels pretty vulnerable to be talking about this at all, let alone on a public forum with both friends and family as well as complete strangers. But I also feel that this is very important to talk about. So here goes.
About two months ago, I was hospitalized for a psychotic break. This is not the first time this has happened to me. However, last time, I was only placed in an emergency room, and then taken home by my mother. This time, after a couple of nights in the emergency room (during which my partner who brought me in received absolutely ZERO communication as to my status,) I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital, and placed on a 72-hour hold while they evaluated whether or not I was a danger to myself or others.
After this hold expired, the doctor who was in charge of my care decided to extend my stay by placing me on another hold, this time for up to 14 days.
Thankfully, I got out well before the maximum possible time I could have been held there. However, I know even so that I will be dealing with effects for the long-term of being held in a mental hospital against my will.
There are certainly a few positives to be found out of this scenario as well, and I will go into more detail about all of those at some point, but right now I want to talk about how terrifying our mental health system in this country can be for patients.
First of all, upon arrival in the mental hospital, I was immediately asked to sign paperwork. I remember this fairly hazily, as I was still under the influence of the benzos that the ER was sedating me with during my stay there (which, while certainly not ideal, I don't fault them for doing as this is really the only tool they have for dealing with the kind of patient that I was for them.) I recall them giving a brief explanation for what I was signing. But I have no memory at all of the wording they used. I do remember, however, attempting to force my brain to focus enough to read the actual paperwork that I was being asked to sign, and being completely unable to do so. However, they didn't seem overly patient with how difficult this was for me. Since I was trying my best to be cooperative and do what they asked, I followed along with their continued prompting to sign my name on the line, even without an understanding of what it meant to do so.
This is horrifying to me now.
Luckily, I am out now and healing.
But I can't help but wonder what could have happened. What if they had reason to believe I needed a certain kind of treatment and asked me to sign up for a surgical procedure? What if I signed something giving up my rights??
I want to believe in the best possible intentions of those working at that facility, and in the medical field in general, but the fact is, that humans are imperfect. Most of us are simply trying to survive. Many just check boxes that their supervisor tells them need to be checked. It's impossible to say that no harm could possibly have come from this seemingly simple act.
Nobody asked me how I was feeling, if I knew where I was, or what was happening. They simply told me: "Here is what's going to happen. Sign here."
What happened from there only continues to scare me further. I was given more medication, and to be honest for the first couple of days in there, I don't remember taking any pills or any sort of oral application. I don't recall any explanation of why I was being prescribed medication, what it was, or what the possible side effects would be. At some point, I remember talking on the phone with my partner, and him asking me if my hands were in my mouth, why he couldn't understand me. I told him (through intense difficulty) that I had no control over my facial muscles and he asked to speak to the nurses. They refused to come to the phone.
Since I had been on the same medication for several days now, and still had yet to make significant improvements in my mental state, and now having this severe reaction (without ANY of the staff taking notice) I knew that whatever was being given to me was NOT helping me. I could tell that my brain and my body were not working together like they were meant to. I could tell that my mental faculties wanted to return to me, but something was preventing them. So I decided to use my right to refuse medication. The next day, I woke up and felt like myself again. Finally, I could speak and articulate what it was I was trying to say. Finally, there was no more mental fog clouding my perception and I knew exactly how to begin using the tools I had been practicing for the past several years to take control of my mind, my body, and my situation.
I could finally meditate again.
Once I found my center and began to more fully understand this reality, I realized that I needed to leave this place as soon as possible. My time here was scheduled be up soon, and as far as I was concerned, this could not happen quick enough. Not only was this an intensely anxious environment because of all the energy coming from other patients, it was also incredibly toxic because of the attitudes of some of the staff-- namely, the doctors.
Despite the fact that I only returned to my baseline AFTER I stopped taking the anti-psychotic drugs, I was told by multiple staff members that the chances of being released while refusing medication were slim to none. In fact, because of this (and supposedly because of the nature of my behavior while I was in the ER), the doctor placed me on a 14 day hold as soon as my original 72 hour hold was up. He did this without telling me, or my emergency contact. So I had to find out by way of being on the phone with my partner while he was outside, trying to pick me up, and the staff at the door telling him that I was not being released on time.
So, here I began to panic. Fourteen days is a long time in a place like this. It had only been 3 days so far at this point, and that felt like an eternity. So I began brainstorming all the possibilities. I contemplated trying to break out. But I had a broken foot, so running away was not only foolish, but also physically impossible. I asked my partner to start contacting lawyers. And finally, at this point, I decided to call my mother.
Up until now, I had not yet reached out to her to tell her what was going on. I didn't want to worry her unnecessarily, as she had a tendency of doing enough of that on her own. But now, being faced with the possibility of being held against my will for two more weeks, I knew it was time she knew.
After talking with her and receiving assurance that she was on my side and doing her best to help me, I began focusing on what I needed to do on the inside.
For the fourth or fifth time since I had been transferred to this unit, I requested a patient handbook, so that I could read my rights, and find the contact information for my patient advocate. Now, finally, after my partner had been raising hell outside and threatening lawsuits, I received the handbook. I also finally got the contact information for my case worker.
Though a case worker is required to speak with every patient pending release, I had never heard from mine nor even known it was an option for me to reach out to her. Nobody tells you anything in there. You have to know what to ask, then ask over and over again before you actually get any information.
I found out from my partner who spoke to a nurse on the phone who acted as a whistle-blower, that apparently this hospital was notorious for letting patients out extremely late. They will hold people for as long as they can in order to collect insurance money. Also, it came to my knowledge that this doctor, who was the SINGULAR person who had any power over my release, liked his ego stroked. He wanted to feel like he was in complete control and didn't like when patients asked about when they were getting released, because he viewed it as insubordination. I heard things from multiple fellow patients that confirmed this as well.
I realized that I had to start playing into his game if I was going to get out any time soon.
Though I had been refusing medication for a couple of days now on the basis of the bad reaction I had gotten from it, my doctor never informed me that he had switched my prescription. I had to find this out from the meds nurse on duty one night when I told him I wasn't going to take them. He told me then it was a new medication. All the while I suspected that a huge reason I hadn't been released at the time I was originally supposed to because of the fact that I wasn't taking my meds (this was CONFIRMED by my case worker, multiple nurses, and other patients who were seeing the same doctor.) Yet the very doctor who expected me to be taking them couldn't be bothered to actually tell me that he changed the prescription.
Finally I realized what I had to do.
Though I still did not trust that the drugs would do anything positive for me at all, I knew I had to make my doctor believe I was playing by his rules. I made an incredibly difficult decision to take a huge risk and take the pill they gave me at bedtime and hide it in my gums. I knew if I was caught doing this I was going to be held even longer and likely medicated against my will. But it had taken me this long to get my lucidity back, and without knowing what kind of effects this new drug (Seraquil, for anyone curious) would have on my mental stability, I couldn't take the even greater risk of likely ruining my mind. I did this for two nights. Whenever I saw my doctor I made a huge show of telling him how much better I felt and thanking him profusely for changing my medication, since this one "helped me so much." I told him what he wanted to hear, and finally on the third day, I saw my doctor again. He told me he had seen such improvement in the past couple of days that he was going to talk my social worker and "try to get me out early." (mind you, I was at the exact same level of self-control and 'normalcy' as I had been the day I stopped taking the first medications, and the original day I was supposed to be released. I had asked him if I was going to leave that day, and he told me "I don't know. Because I don't know if you're safe yet.")
I had already spoken to my social worker who had told me if it was up to her I would be released, but unfortunately it was entirely the doctor's decision.
So not only did he completely disregard my actual state of being in favor of his own preferred belief that drugs would solve everything, but he lied to my face in order to try to play the hero, saying that he was doing me a favor by letting me go before my court-appointed hearing would happen because according to him, a judge would "take one look at me and never agree to let me go."
This whole experience disgusted me in so many ways, I feel dirty just typing it now.
Thankfully the doctor did actually decide to release me that day.
But it terrifies me that other people are going through this same hell all the time, and likely without the level of amazing support from loved ones on the outside that I was fortunate enough to have.
There are so many other details to this story that I would like to add, but I have now been sitting on this for weeks and I feel it is time to put my story out there.
People need to know what our mental health system is really like, what really is happening behind closed doors.
If there is any takeaway from this, I hope it will be that our institutions need MASSIVE reform, from the laws that allow a single person to have so much power over patients, to the under-funding that leads to overworked nurses that have no time or emotional/mental energy to care adequately for patients needs.
The fact that I never spoke to my doctor for longer than ten minutes at a time, and only a handful of times in the entire time I was at this facility is wildly concerning. This person who is making high level decisions on patients' fate is not even taking more than an hour per week to understand their inner workings. THIS SHOULD RAISE ALARM BELLS!!!
I truly hope that we as a society can work to make mental health facilities not only a SAFE place (long way to go for this one!) But also a place of actual healing for patients.
Thank you for reading. If you would like to know more, keep a watch on our YouTube and other social media. I plan to make more detailed accounts of this entire experience in video format!
P.S. the hospital I stayed at is Canyon Ridge Hospital in Chino, California, under the "care" of Doctor Wadie Alkhouri.